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Business drives Southampton’s future growth

MakingSouthampton Airport hassle-free:  Southampton Airport is one of BAA’s smaller regional airports, but it has seen steady growth since its sole terminal opened in 1994.

It’s all very well delivering on budget and to cost, but I could also cause disruption to the airport

Paul Morgan

Currently almost 2M passengers use Southampton Airport each year, and with projections showing that this figure will grow to 3M by 2015, careful planning by owner BAA is needed to ensure its infrastructure can cope.

Now half-way through a £7M capital projects programme for 2008, engineers are working through its asset replacement schedule. This involves installing a more energy efficient chiller for the airconditioning units.

Southampton’s newest project, enabling works for which began last weekend, will see the expansion of the existing short-stay parking facilities so that they can provide an extra 334 parking spaces. BAA Southampton director of planning and development David Lees explains that the airport is particularly important for the region, partly because of the high proportion of business travellers.

He adds that plans to expand the range of retail outlets at the terminal in addition to the current car park expansion project have resulted directly from customers’ feedback on the existing facilities. “We are very business orientated and this is one of the things we need to keep uppermost in our minds in terms of looking after the needs of the traveller,”

Lees comments, pointing out that with around 1,200 local people employed at the airport, it is now a key part of the local economy. “It plays very heavily into the local economy plus provides inward investment,” he says. “Almost 40% of our passengers are travelling for business reasons. This is very different compared to other local regional airports.”

This has led to the airport striving to maintain its unique selling point that customers are able to “breeze through” without much of the hassle typically associated with larger airport terminals. The local train station is just a three minute walk from the terminal building and helps to retain such a high proportion of business customers, as does the uncluttered fast-track style terminal.

Southampton airport’s head of projects, Paul Morgan, insists he is a typical construction project manager through and through. This is despite the additional problems he has faced while carrying out improvement projects in the confines of a busy terminal building.

Maintaining an effective airport operation has to be one of his key measures of performance. “It’s all very well delivering on budget and to cost, but I could also cause disruption to the airport,” he says. “I have to balance the right time and the right programme, my optimal plans may not be ones that the airport can live with.” He adds: “We did a baggage project last year where we worked on the stands in the heart of an operational area, so we had to keep the operation going at the same time. “That’s what makes airport projects interesting yet potentially you’ve got a real headache at times.”

This project saw three additional baggage handling lines constructed while a large check-in desk was replaced with self-service check-in machines to make better use of the available space. Despite the careful use of the existing space within the airport footprint, by 2030 the amount of annual traffic is expected to grow to around 6M passengers and construction of a bigger terminal building, or even an entirely new one, could be required within the decade.

Plans for this expansion will not be finalised for several years yet, and all development should be easily accommodated on BAA-owned land.

Whether a separate terminal is built or the existing one is extended, the challenge of developing BAA Southampton into a sustainable midsized airport in a sustainable manner will be an interesting one.  

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